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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I indicated to your Lordships last week when I answered this question, I believe that the remarks in question were uttered by Mr Nicholas Burns, who himself said that he had been quoted out of context in his interview with Radio Free Europe.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, despite the Minister's reassuring words, is not the problem that is giving cause to renewed concern the fact that Article 1.15 of the draft constitutionalthough I agree that it is still to be negotiatedreinforces the idea of a separate European defence capability? We know that that is something that the French have always wanted. They are perfectly entitled to it, it is in their interest, and good luck to them. However, now that this new worry has arisen, can we be assured that in the negotiation the United Kingdom will strike out that clause? Will the Minister guarantee that we will resist any signature or commitment to a separate command structure or capability, which the French want and the Minister says that we do not?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have been over this matter several times. The noble Lord is quite right: we do not want separate operational facilities. We have operational facilities that can operate either through SACEUR and SHAPE, as we discussed last week, or through national headquarters, as the French national headquarters were used for operations in the Congo.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, would it not be useful to remember that the major criticism that can be made of European countries is that they have not made enough of an effort on defence? In that context, America is already becoming over-stretched in some of its commitments. Whatever the wording of the constitutional treaty, the more that Europe can get together, get its defence up and running and become collectively more able to deal with issues from Macedonia to Iraq, the better.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, that is exactly the point, and it was a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when she was the Prime Minister of this country. She also pointed out that there were some deficiencies with some of our European partners. We recognise that those deficiencies may still
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as he knows, the noble and gallant Lord, with his great perspicacity, wandered somewhat wide of the Question. The noble and gallant Lord knows that I am in no position from this Dispatch Box to give him guarantees about future defence funding. I know how passionately he feels about that and, of course, those concerned with making those calculations will read his remarks in Hansard.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, is it not the case that there is less dividing Europe and the United States Administration on military capabilities and headquarters agreements than is sometimes apparent from the injudicious remarks of certain members of the United States Administration who give the impression that they regard other member countries of NATO not so much as independent states but as satellites? Their preference for cherry picking their allies is unhelpful to the development of the common political perception that has been the strength of NATO from the beginning.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, let us be fair over this point. The noble Lord referred to what he described as certain injudicious remarks from certain members of the United States Administration. I expect that our friends on the Conservative Benches will be able to point out certain injudicious remarks from some of our key allies in Europe. I have said that I do not think it is sensible for us to dwell on remarks from unattributed sources whether they be in the United States or the European Union. Let us look at what people are willing to put their names to. I have given your Lordships two excellent quotes from key figures in the United States Administration who support the United Kingdom's position on these crucial issues.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to make a Statement about recess dates. To save time, energy and biros, I have arranged for copies of the dates to be put in the Printed Paper Office.
I wish to deal first with Prorogation. I hope that it will be possible to prorogue no later than Thursday 20th November. The House will understand that it is too soon to be certain and it depends on the progress of business in both Houses, but that looks the most likely date from where I am standing at the moment.
Looking further ahead, last Thursday my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, made a Statement about Commons recess dates. I shall give those dates for reasons that will become apparent. Some noble Lords have already picked them up. The dates that my right honourable friend gave are as follows. For the Christmas Recess the House will rise on Thursday 18th December and return on Monday 5th January. In February the House will rise on Thursday 12th February and return on Monday 23rd February. At Easter the House will rise on Thursday 8th April and return on Monday 19th April. At Whitsun the House will rise on Thursday 27th May and return on Monday 7th June. For the Summer Recess the House will rise on Thursday 22nd July and return on Tuesday 7th September. For the Conference Recess, as it is called, the House will rise on Thursday 16th September and return on Monday 11th October.
As I said, those are Commons dates. However, I can tell the House that, subject as ever to the help and assistance of everyone in this House, it is my intention that this House should match those dates. That is as ever subject to the progress of business. I can say more specifically that it will be dependent this year on the number of Bills that we are able to agree should be dealt with in Grand Committee.
On the specific question of the September sitting which a number of noble Lords have raised, it will be for the House to decide, on a Motion that will be tabled early in the New Session, whether it wishes to match the Commons in the experiment that we started this year and which will have to be considered for next year. That will be a decision for the House to take.
Everyone will be aware that someone in my position is slightly nervous at announcing recess dates up to summer of next year and beyond. As in so many aspects, I have many aspirations but not always the power to deliver them. If we are able to stick to those dates, it is helpful not only to your Lordships but, perhaps in some ways more importantly, it is helpful to the many people who work for us so effectively in this House to enable them to plan their holiday dates. I hope that those dates are helpful.
It will, of course, be relevant to that debate if I point out that 22nd July is not mid-July, which was the phrase used in the original arrangements. Thursday 15th or Friday 16th July would be more like the middle of July, but that is an arithmetic point.
As regards Grand Committees, will the noble Lord the Chief Whip acknowledge that we have this Session more than delivered our part of the working practices agreement but the other half of that agreementthe 10 o'clock convention, and the seven o'clock convention on Thursdayshas been repeatedly and flagrantly breached?
In principle I see little reason for the two Houses to sit on the same days all the time any more than we sit at the same hours, which we certainly do not at the moment. Does the noble Lord the Chief Whip recognise that if the recess dates that he has announced are to be delivered it is essential that the Government introduce a lighter and better balanced legislative programme as between the two Houses?
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